With construction of the Schwarzman Center underway, blue fences conceal much of the activity taking place inside. But behind the scenes, administrators have been hard at work consulting members of the Yale and New Haven community to develop a vision for the new student life hub.
In an interview with the News, executive director of the Schwarzman Center Garth Ross said that he has met with over 100 undergraduate, graduate and professional students, faculty members and New Haven residents to discuss integrating the center into the campus community, maximizing its potential benefits for student life. The takeaways from these meetings will feed Ross’ own idea for the center while simultaneously providing updates for the financier footing the center’s bill: Blackstone CEO and top Republican Party donor Stephen Schwarzman ’69. Ross said that the University communicates with the Stephen A. Schwarzman Education Foundation every quarter to update them on the progress of the hub.
“Our vision for the center continues to evolve as we gather input from the key stakeholder groups for the Schwarzman Center,” Ross said. “The overarching purpose of these meetings is to answer the question of how the Schwarzman Center can promote individual and community wellness by inviting the campus community to participate [in] social and cultural events and activities.”
According to Ross, in the basement level of Commons, wood panels and a data hub have already been removed to accommodate the construction. Now, the project has entered its second phase, during which the University’s lead contractor will identify subcontractors for domain-specific work — such as millwork, excavation and plumbing.
In a statement to the News, Schwarzman said that he hopes the center will serve as “a crossroads and hub for campus life, helping to connect undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, the local community and even global audiences.”
“New performance, exhibition, meeting and dining spaces, combined with programming designed to encourage interaction between these groups, will enrich the experiences of Yale students and better integrate the school with both local and global communities,” Schwarzman’s statement read. “I’m looking forward to seeing students bring the building to life in the near future.”
Thomas Clements, Blackstone’s global public affairs manager, said that while Schwarzman was involved “in the initial vision for the project and remains closely interested in its progress,” he is not “involved day-to-day.” That falls to Yale, under Ross’ leadership, Clements added. In an interview with the News, Ross said Schwarzman’s vision largely coincided with that of Yale and New Haven community members.
Joan Channick DRA ’89, a professor at the School of Drama, told the News that development for the center’s programming is well underway. In October, Ross organized an all-day “Collaborator Summit and Culture Hackathon” among faculty, students and staff to discuss what the center should offer.
According to Senior Associate Dean Burgwell Howard, the Schwarzman Center partnered with the Yale College Dean’s Office and Yale Dining to host the Bulldog Bash in August. Howard said he hopes the center will facilitate connections between “strangers, friends, students and staff,” just as the Bulldog Bash event did earlier this semester.
Other faculty members and administrators interviewed by the News emphasized the role that the center — which will house several performance venues and a dance studio — will play in exposing the community to culture and the arts. Assistant Dean for the Arts Kate Krier said she has regularly conferred with Ross about incorporating art in the center’s programming and daily activities.
Channick said that she shared a similar vision of “cross-cultural arts programming” for the center. When she met with Ross, she discussed the possibility of partnering with the Yale-China’s arts programs, which bring artists and art managers from Hong Kong to Yale’s campus.
Faculty members interviewed by the News also expressed hope that the center would improve relations with the New Haven community.
“There is also a sense of a greater separation between Yale and New Haven than would be ideal, despite the considerable efforts that are made throughout the University and the city,” Channick said. “My hope is that the Schwarzman Center will become a place that supports, encourages and helps make such partnerships possible, and that it will be truly open and welcoming to the entire Yale and New Haven community.”
In a statement to the News, Chad Herzog, co-executive director of the New Haven International Festival of Arts and Ideas, said he was excited for the opportunities that will come with a new partnership between the festival and the Schwarzman Center.
“To think that the [Schwarzman] Center sits in the “center” of our city and [Yale] University is pretty special,” Herzog said. “It puts art, culture and social gathering at the center. I can’t think of a better place to put these things and I really can’t think of a better way to live … with art, culture and social gathering.”
Schwarzman donated $150 million in May 2015 to create the center.
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